Sunday, January 3, 2010

Nervous about an interview? Try this!

I think for most of us, being on the interviewee side of an interview is *hard*. Personally, I am always really nervous when I feel like I am being judged. I don't like being the center of attention. I have trouble with public speaking for these same reasons. An interview is a judgement of my professional abilities, and to not be offered a position after an interview is a *rejection* that hits a nerve. It's enough to make anybody nervous.

In public speaking, many people have little tips and tricks to help with being nervous. They may tell you to picture everyone naked (does anyone actually *do* that??), or to focus on a single person, make eye contact, and pretend like you are speaking only to them.

For interviewing, I found a way of looking at the interview that seemed to really help alleviate my nervousness before and during an interview: I pretended like I was just chatting with someone I had met at a conference.

I went to Agile 2009 in August, and I met a great many people that were in all kinds of different positions. Some were testers, some were developers, some were coaches, some were Ux experts. Some were consultants, some worked for very large companies, some very small. The range of experiences and situations was pretty big. I found that conversations were easy to get into with every single person I met. I'd ask a bit about where they worked and what they did, and what they were hoping to get out of the conference. I'd tell them a bit about me and what I was hoping to get out of the conference, too.

Sometimes someone would say something about an issue they were trying to solve that I had experience with, and I would be able to share some of my experience with them. Of course, this was a two way street, and I got a lot of great advice too. The point is that I did this enough times that in just a few short days it became pretty natural. If you've been to a large professional gathering, I'd guess that you've done much of the same thing.

So the next time I found myself on the interviewee side of the table, I told myself that I was just talking to another person I had met at a conference. I think that this idea addresses two main points of an interview: it helps me to learn about the company I am interviewing for (after all, an interview *is* (or should be) two-sided), *and* it helps them to get insight into what *I* can do for their team should they hire me.

When I ask them about what they do, I learn some more than just a job description provides about the company, the team, and the role. I can ask specific questions, like what a day in the life of this role looks like. When I ask them about their biggest pain points, I get insight into where their weaknesses are, and whether I think these are things I want to deal with or tackle.

Asking about biggest pain points is doubly beneficial, though, because then I can also look for things I can relate to. I look for things similar to what I have experienced in the past. When I find them, I can then discuss my own similar experience and what happened in that situation. In doing that, I provide the interviewer with information about how I can help them, how their hiring me will benefit them and make me the best candidate for the position.

Is it possible that I won't find anything I can relate to? I suppose, but I don't think it's all that frequent. If it happens, it may mean that I'm not a good fit for that position anyway.

I also think that to whatever degree I can pull this attitude off, it takes some of the pressure off of me too. I learned many years ago that I interviewed the best when I didn't really *need* the job, likely because I wasn't paralyzed with terror for my job status.

So, take a deep breath, relax, and just chat. Your passion and expertise will come out naturally. :)


Adam said...

Good advice, Dawn. IMO, interviews should feel conversational, and if they're not, it is an indication of what type of company you many be going to work for.

Dawn said...

Adam, I would totally agree that interviews should feel conversational. I spent many years, however, so paralyzed with nervousness that *I* was unable to *be* conversational. I am hoping that for others who get nervous like that, a tip like this may help.

Paul Geffen said...

Dawn, I had an intense series of interviews yesterday - six in three hours - and my preparation for it included a lot of research into the company and the people I was scheduled to talk to. Another thing I did was bring a list of questions.
These questions were based on a list that a salesman might use to help qualify and close a deal and the purpose was to help me evaluate the company and the position in case they make an offer and I have to decide.
I have found that an interviewer will often ask, at the end of the session, "do you have any questions for me" and by that time I can't always remember what to ask. This list really helps me to bring closure to the conversation.
Your questions will depend on your situation but the point is to have them ready in advance.

Dawn said...

Aha, Paul, having a list of questions is a good idea too. I've done that as well, and also have written questions down *during* the interview.

Recently I started making sure to include questions that gave me information analogous to something I have not liked at a previous job, or the flip side (aspects I really did like).

I do believe that the written backup helps to alleviate some of that "deer in the headlights" feel where your mind goes blank from anxiety.

abby, the hacker chick blog said...

Great post! I bet another HUGE advantage of this is that when you're speaking conversationally in something as stressful as a job interview, it really makes you come across as more confident (cool, confident, collected :) ) and, for better or for worse, people perceive confidence as competence. ;-)

Great ideas - and in the comments too, thanks Adam & Paul.

Tom said...

Terrific idea and advice. Candidates forget that often interviewers are not trained on how to interview. Unfortunately candidates sometimes have to figure out how to 'manage' and interviewer/interview. I like your idea. Nervous candidates also suffer sometimes from talking too much, often without thinking.
We also coach candidates to try and slow things down. Nervous people tend to just say the first thing that pops in their mind. Slow it down, take a sip of water, repeat/rephrase the question come up with a couple of short stalls so you can formulate your answer until you get into the flow. Finally it really helps to get into the flow if you are prepared to answer the typical questions like, 'tell me about yourself'.

Knowing the answers to 5-10 typical questions cold can boost confidence, because you won't have to think and chances are 1 or 2 will come up.

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